The third preseason game is upon us. When we get the best, longest look at the 2016 Oakland Raiders. Here are the players we will be watching as this year’s squad takes the field in Oakland for the first time this year to face the Titans.
1. Derek Carr
There is no reason to panic about Derek Carr’s struggles in the first two preseason games. The handful of overly concerned fans didn’t come by those concerns in the past two weeks. We won’t entirely see the fruits of Carr and the returning coaching staff until the regular season, but what we should absolutely have seen already is Carr’s chemistry with his receivers. And we haven’t seen much of it. There’s really no reason for he and his receivers not to be on the same page and clicking. That’s what we’ll be looking for from him Saturday.
2. Amari Cooper
Outside of that one fantastic connection up the right sideline last week between he and Carr, no Raiders receiver has appeared more out of sync than Cooper. In the opener, his two downfield targets fell incomplete, first due to him not keeping his feet in bounds and the second because he short-armed the catch attempt. Last week against the Packers, he was criticized for a lack of effort on a jump ball that was intercepted. Saying ‘it’s the preseason’ isn’t cutting it. There’s never an excuse for a lack of effort. The fans in Oakland will insist upon full effort.
3. Jalen Richard
At the risk of further hyping up this undrafted rookie, he will see his first action in this game and it’s been much anticipated. There have been others that were hyped up, but they have all taken the field already, which is why Richard is drawing so much press now. The Raiders will be looking to see if this former tryout player can show on the playing field what he did in training camp. And he is expected to see some time with the first team offensive line to prove it.
4. Menelik Watson
Once again, Watson is slated to be the starting right tackle, after injuries had derailed his and the Raiders’ plans over his first three NFL seasons. Once again, Watson has held down the starting right tackle job throughout the offseason and training camp, and played well in the first two preseason games. This will be his most extensive playing time in a game in quite a while, and therefore give us the best indication of how he will hold up this season.
5. Denico Autry
Autry will replace Mario Edwards again this week. Last week, the Raiders struggled mightily against the run. That run defense will be tested against the Titans who now deploy former NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray and reigning Heisman Trophy winning rookie Derrick Henry. Autry will play a big role in attempting to keep them from breaking through to the second level.
6. Darius Latham
Over the first two preseason games, on 57 snaps, Latham was graded by Pro Football Focus as the top rookie defensive tackle. He led the team in snaps (37) last week, including seeing five snaps with the first unit. Keep an eye on if number 75 once again rotates in with the first team defense as well as how he performs. If he does, it will offer a larger sample size and a more accurate grade of his talents.
7. Ben Heeney
Last week Heeney couldn’t stop anything. It didn’t matter who was running the ball early in the game, Heeney couldn’t get a hand on them. He would either be blocked out of the play or over run it. It’s possible he was still suffering residual effects from going down with an apparent leg injury in practice two days before the game. If that was the case, we should see improvement. The Raiders will need to see improvement as Heeney is the team’s new starting middle linebacker.
8. Nate Allen
Reggie Nelson won’t play in this one. Taking his place in the starting lineup will be Nate Allen. No safety has looked better this preseason for the Raiders than Allen. He has looked every bit the player the Raiders hoped he would be when they signed him to a long term deal last offseason, but didn’t get to see due to several injuries. Allen has seen some time with the first team this preseason with Karl Joseph leaving the game before the rest of the first teamers. This week Allen will line up alongside Joseph.
9. David Amerson
He was an absolute Godsend for the Raiders last season. He has taken a backseat to newly signed Sean Smith thus far. Amerson has also given up several big plays in the first two weeks and hasn’t made any plays. Look for him to step up and make a play in this game.
10. DJ Hayden
It seems like every week Hayden is under the microscope. Probably because he is. As the primary nickel corner, he has seen a good amount of playing time. Despite TJ Carrie’s experience in the position, the team has not wavered on Hayden; giving him every opportunity to prove he can keep his career afloat as a slot corner. He hasn’t made any big plays, but hasn’t given up any big plays either. And so, we continue DJ watch, 2016.